A CARE home boss has been jailed for eight months for failing to protect a 90-year-old dementia sufferer who climbed out of her bedroom window and fell to her death.
A judge said Matt Matharu had shown a “reckless disregard” for health and safety which led to the death of Norah Elliott after she plunged from a conservatory roof at Parkview care home in Seaton Carew, in October 2012.
Matharu, 50, was found guilty of two breaches under the Health and Safety at Work Act following a trial at Teesside Crown Court at the end of last year.
Judge Michael Taylor yesterday said he was satisfied there was no chain on the window which Mrs Elliot, who had tried to leave the home twice earlier that night, climbed out of.
The trial heard it had been removed during a recent refurbishment and had not been replaced.
And a chain on another window in Mrs Elliott’s room could be broken by a police officer with just his little finger.
Mrs Elliott had moved into the home with her husband, who also has dementia, only a few days earlier.
In sentencing, Judge Taylor told Matharu, who also runs or is involved with several other homes in the Hartlepool area: “It is quite clear to me you had a reckless disregard here as to the issues of health and safety that applies in your premises.
“I’m satisfied that the gravity of this does require me to impose an immediate custodial sentence.
“It is no comfort to the family to say the only person who suffered a mishap is Mrs Elliott but many others would be at risk if this sort of behaviour were to continue.”
He added Matharu, of Elwick Road, Hartlepool, had ignored previous health and safety warnings from Hartlepool Borough Council around the risks to residents from falls from windows.
The home’s own risk assessment rated the windows as a “severe” risk.
The judge was also critical of the home’s superficial record keeping.
Matharu did not change or update Parkview’s risk assessment document since it took over from the previous owners in 2006.
Judge Taylor said: “There was no regular recorded system of inspection or faults, defects, repairs or the need to look at various issues.
“It was apparent from such records that did exist that the training of your staff was rudimentary in the extreme.”
The judge also rejected an assertion by Matharu during his trial that Mrs Elliott had tried to kill herself.
“She went out the window thinking she could get out of the home that way,” he said.
Chris Morrison, mitigating for Matharu, claimed the homes he runs would collapse if he was sent to prison.
He added Matharu was struggling financially despite accounts showing thousands of pounds being withdrawn and transferred between his bank accounts following the investigation.
Matharu was also ordered to pay the prosecution’s costs in full of £70,213.
A council spokesman said: “This case will hopefully serve as a reminder to every one of the tragic circumstances that can occur when Health and Safety are not properly adhered to.
“Adequate controls to prevent vulnerable people falling from windows, such as window restrictors which prevent windows from opening too far, are easy to implement and advice is available from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
“We would urge care providers to revisit their risk assessment to ensure that they have adequate measures in place and that these are being suitably maintained and recorded.”